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Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Zach Meyer talks about additional materials provided for Braveworks’ sitemap for a mixed-use development at 326 Shelden Ave. at Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting.

HOUGHTON — The Houghton Planning Commission reaffirmed its site plan approval for a new mixed-use development on the former Hellman Transportation Center site on Shelden Avenue on Tuesday evening.

The commission voted 8-0 to accept additional information regarding the site plan for the building at 326 Shelden Ave, and found that the site plan continued to meet the city’s approval requirements. The building has five stories above Shelden and one on Lakeshore Drive; Braveworks plans to build 16 long-term housing units as well as street-level retail space on Shelden.

Tuesday’s resolution came after a lawsuit by Edward Cole, owner of the nearby Hall building. The planning commission approved the site plan in September. The Houghton County Circuit Court issued a stay of approval of the site plan pending resolution of the lawsuit, which remains in effect.

Zach Meyer, who represented Braveworks at the meeting, said the additional information was not intended to make substantive changes, but to connect the dots between the sitemap request and the requirements.

“I hope the documents provided are clear enough to help you review the basis on which you made the decision before, and all of this ensures that we have a good, clear case here for the public,” he said.

An information sheet included with the plan showed where in the materials various requirements were included, such as topographic elevations. He also clarified that runoff water would be collected by roof drains and directed to the existing stormwater system that flows north under the existing building.

In a letter sent to the planning commission, Cole said he was unhappy with Wednesday’s resolution, which he said was vague and did not address other site plan failures. He continued to oppose allowing the new building blocking the east facade of the Hall building, which he claimed would block sunlight and airflow to the building.

“The Planning Commission is now voting to mask a 120-year-old building that underpins the downtown district of Houghton”, he said. “Reconsidering this terrible decision should be at the center of tonight’s decision, not supporting it.”

Jennifer Julien, member of the Planning Commission and co-owner of Braveworks, abstained from the deliberation and the vote.

She declined to comment after the meeting.

During Wednesday’s meeting, the commission went through the standards established under section 98-604 of the city’s zoning ordinances and explained how it felt the site plan met them. Cole’s lawsuit alleged that the commission failed to consider those standards when it approved the plan in September.

The zoning ordinance requires that site plan features be “Organized in a harmonious and efficient manner” depending on a variety of factors, including the size and type of buildings and the character of adjoining properties. The site plan for 326 Shelden met those standards, the commission said.

“The improvements contemplated by the site plan, including the multi-storey brick building, are much more compatible with the character, style and design of the adjacent buildings than the existing single-storey structure on the property,” the city’s resolution said. “Furthermore, the proposed building will fill the void in the ‘street wall’…and provide a more harmonious appearance to the downtown core.

The street wall is part of the city’s Central Business Overlay District requirement that buildings be constructed no more than 10 feet from the front lot line on Shelden Avenue. The new site plan meets this requirement; the current structure does not.

The planning commission also found the development aligned with several goals and objectives of the city’s master plan, including providing a wide range of housing options and promoting a community that is more walkable and bikeable.

The commission also addressed Cole’s view that the new development could be considered “accommodation,” and therefore would not be exempt from downtown parking requirements. The suit filed in the circuit court cited the dictionary definition of lodging, which included dwellings.

Commissioners pointed to other examples in city documents that exclusively used lodging in connection with hotels or motels.

Commissioner Dan Liebau read a section of the city’s master plan, where a bullet point titled “Accommodation” describes five downtown hotels.

“We always interpreted it that way every time,” said commissioner Mike Needham.

The Planning Commission responded to Cole’s view that permitting the building would negatively impact the historic character of the town centre. While the Hall building is part of the Shelden Avenue Historic District, the city does not have a historic preservation ordinance, the resolution says. Moreover, he says, “The building on the site in question was constructed in the 1980s and is not a historic structure.”

Due to the aforementioned discrepancy in the “street wall” According to the resolution, the new building also better meets the objectives of the central business district than the current structure while respecting the character of the historic district, the commission found.

The stay and the lawsuit against the city are ongoing. A hearing in Houghton County Circuit Court is scheduled for November 16.

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